Ever since LEDs were first used in decorative light fittings (about fifteen years ago), brands have occasionally launched battery-powered lights. Initially, power output was low, so they were cute decorative objects, rather than useful light sources. Now, much higher lumen output per watt means that cordless lights are a viable alternative in many situations. As proof of this, a rash of them broke out all over Euroluce last month. So for the first time it is possible to assess how cordless will develop, and identify the issues that you should bear in mind when specifying them. Just read this and you’ll be an expert on cordless lights. Really!
The advantages of a cordless light are self-evident, so I’m flagging up the disadvantages here at the beginning:
Almost everybody is using mobile phone technology. A cordless light is recharged from a USB port or by plugging it into the mains via a transformer. This is fine for domestic use, but a problem for hospitality projects because:
1. Cordless lights are easy to steal (by definition they are portable and not physically tethered to anything) and the thief will have no problem recharging it
2. At the end of the day, someone at a 48 table restaurant will have to collect 48 portable lights and plug them into 48 separate charging cables. Besides the time it takes, think of the space they will all take up!
- The Battery
Currently, lithium-ion batteries are the only viable option. These are (a) bulky and (b) expensive. So cordless lights are not as elegant, or as cheap, as your clients would like them to be.
Yes, they can be used outside and, because they are not connected to the mains, they won’t electrocute anybody (so they are ideal for placing around swimming pools, &c.). But assume, unless the maker tells you otherwise, that they can’t be left outside. The materials that they are made of may not stand up to rain, wind, dust or ultra-violet light. It’s not a problem, of course: they just have be brought under cover when they are not being used.
So, with these aspects in mind, let’s look at what we learnt at Euroluce.
There are clear design trends emerging.
The lantern evolved to enable you to carry a candle around with you, so it is a logical format for a cordless electric light.
This is Blakes from the lantern-masters, Tekna. (The LEDs are in the top so they can’t be seen. There is no glare or ugly lamp in view.)
More suited to being carried around is Santa & Cole’s Cestita Bataría, with its wonderful plump glass diffuser:
LZF’s PikNik, in a choice of woods:
Or, for those who appreciate the finer things in life (even when lost in the woods at night), there is the magnificent Jack, from Windfall – copper, nickel or gold-plated, with facetted lead crystal and a leather handle:
The use to which a cordless light is most likely to be put, particularly for contract, is as a light at the centre of a restaurant table. They allow the table to be moved, not to be near a power outlet, and not to have a cable coming up through its centre. The cordless luminaire has to cast light down onto the table top whilst not shining into the diners’ eyes. The result is the mushroom. Here are examples from Flos (Bellhop):
And Contardi (Ongo)
Ongo comes in a choice of lovely finishes – the base and shade in light stain bronze, polished nickel, or rose gold, and the shade can also be in black or white Murano glass:
Some cordless lights marry the latest LED technology to the classic base’n’shade typology. Estro’s è.moon has a choice of fabric shades:
Whilst Anna Lari’s Ambrina benefits from their wide range of metal finishes and shade options:
A more contemporary base’n’shade comes from Rotaliana: Dina+ in several colours…
…and with a clear or an opaque shade.
The Existing Design
Some of the most interesting designs are cordless versions of existing designs, such as Catellani & Smith’s Mini Giulietta:
Marset’s elegant Ginger:
And surprisingly (because one still thinks of this design as a huge table light/floor light), Martinelli Luce has created a cordless mini version of Gae Aulenti’s classic mid-century (1965) Pipistrello:
Now that you have seen the trends that are dominating the cordless light market, you can understand what makes…
The Untypical Cordless Light
…all the more interesting and welcome!
Estro are bringing us cordless floor-standing reading lights – particularly useful beside a sofa or chair in the middle of a room, well away from power points. Meet the floor version of è.kuma:
Nyta’s Pong can be casually slung over beams and branches, so it is a cordless indoor/outdoor pendant!
And Nautic have created a cordless wall light from their Blakes lantern:
Anna Lari have stuck with cordless table lights and are having fun creating a really quirky collection:
The New Concept
When a new technology becomes available, it is first used in the format of what preceded it. The first railway carriages and the first motor cars were based on the design of horse-drawn carriages. As you will now appreciate, cordless LED lights are still at this early stage. So hats off to Davide Groppi for coming up with Tetatet:
It looks like it should fall over, doesn’t it. This tension brings energy to this most minimal design. The smart money would have been on it being Davide who would have created something revolutionary: besides his exceptional understanding of light, of sculptural form, and of how they interact, he is the world’s leading designer of lights for Michelin-starred restaurants. His latest addition to the Tetatet range, Tetatet Flûte, has a glass stem, which has challenged photographers:
This creates a more luxurious effect, making it suitable for more lavish, traditional table dressings.
The True Masters of the Cordless Light
Everything that you have seen so far has been launched by companies beginning to dabble their toes in cordless lights. Neoz in Sydney has been doing virtually nothing else since 1983!!! So, decades ago, they had identified the issues and what to do about them.
They have a proprietary charging system, so there is no point nicking their lights. And remember what has to happen at the end of the day at the 48-table restaurant? Neoz will sell you a trolley that takes 48 of their lights:
Now all the waiter has to do is whizz round all the tables, putting the Neoz lights on the trolley, before finding a single wall socket into which to plug it. Genius!!
Added to which, they have been using halogen lamps, so many of the their luminaires still radiate proper light – the light that makes people happy.
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that if you were planning on launching something for the first time that others have been doing for over thirty years, you’d have a look to see what you could learn from them. There is little sign of this, though, except in the one area that can prevent Neoz being specified: design.
But here is Cooee 3c from Neoz…
and Philippe Starck's Bon Jour Unplugged from Flos:
So if Philippe Starck is copying Neoz designs, and last night the Neoz Tall Poppy took 2nd place in the relevant category of the DARC Awards/decorative, taste must be moving in Neoz’s direction.
But look through their range and you’ll find some really good pieces. The simple form of Ice Round suits any interior:
And this, as aptly named as Cooee, is Wood:
So Neoz should have been the grand finale of this epic post on cordless lights. But I’ve reserved that privilege for Astep, the brilliant new company that is fascinating in several discrete ways. One is their espousal of cordless lights. There are two so far. The first is Nox:
This does have a proprietary charging system, so it won’t get stolen. It works by induction from its own pad.
Candela, the second cordless light from Astep…well, it is so surprising, so unexpected, that I think I should let you discover it for yourself! A picture won’t be enough; you’ll want to read the explanation of how it works. Click here!
As always, if you’d like to know more about any of the lights featured in this post – or the many I’ve left out – do get in touch.